Bringing Africa Up to High Speed -

Connecting a Continent

If you’re able to read this, it’s because you have access to the Internet. It’s hard for many to imagine life without connectivity, but that’s the reality for half the world’s population. Africa has the lowest number of Internet connections—only 22 percent of the continent has access. It also has the largest potential for progress. 

The African Union, with support from the World Bank Group, has set the goal of connecting every individual, business, and government on the continent by 2030.

Scroll down to learn how we’ll get there.

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Under the Sea

Today, more than 1.2 million kilometers of Internet cables run across the oceans' floors, but just 20 years ago Africa was completely disconnected. Those who did have access—using Internet provided by satellites—paid 10 times more than users in other regions. Service was also slow and unreliable. 

In 2007, IFC and the World Bank launched an ambitious effort to build a network of undersea Internet cables off the coast of East Africa.

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Connecting the Dots

Boosting the region’s connectivity required enormous investment and significant regulatory reforms. IFC helped mobilize $70 million for the submarine cables from private sector partners. Meanwhile, the World Bank worked with governments to resolve regulatory issues—including rights of way, licensing, and cross-border connectivity.

The East African Cable System (EASSy), a 10,000-km undersea fiber-optic cable system running from South Africa to Sudan, became operational in 2010. EASSy has expanded Internet access for 20 coastal and landlocked African countries, lowering broadband costs by as much as 90 percent.

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Accelerating Access

EASSy has improved access for more than 250 million people across Africa. Moreover, faster, cheaper Internet has supported the growth of new industries and created new jobs—increasing employment in some areas by as much as 10 percent. This rapid Internet expansion has contributed to a 14 percent increase in East Africa’s gross domestic product since 2009.

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From Sea to Land

The next step of broadband expansion in Africa is bringing Internet connections inland from underwater submarine cables through fiber-optic networks.

Fiber-optic cables are made of glass and are as thin as a strand of human hair. They’re also expensive: 1 km of fiber costs $30,000. Africa still needs 500,000 km of cable to achieve full connectivity. We won’t make you do the math—that’s $15 billion.

 

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The Next Frontier

In 2017, IFC,  Google Inc., Convergence Partners, and Mitsui & Co. invested in CSquared, a firm that provides open-access fiber-optic networks to underserved countries in Africa. It promotes the use of shared infrastructure to make services more affordable.

 

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Reaching the Last Mile

To date, CSquared has laid more than 3,000 kilometers (km) of fiber-optic cables in Uganda, Ghana, and Liberia—allowing more than 40 Internet service providers and mobile operators to offer broadband services to end users. Of that, 840 km of the cables have been built in Ghana, across the cities of Accra, Kumasi, and Tema. “Internet access is critical for research, teaching, and learning,” says Lucas Chigabatia, the chief information technology officer at the University of Ghana. “CSquared has helped us provide last-mile connectivity, at a higher capacity [and] cheaper than what we get from commercial enterprises.”

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Decreasing Data Costs

In Uganda, where only one in 50 households have reliable broadband access, improvements are significant. “Our cost of data has decreased by 40 percent,” says Reuben Bagenda, IT manager of the Kampala-based ABC Venture Bank, one of the local businesses benefiting from more affordable Internet.

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Big Development Impact

CSquared shows the potential for how Japanese investors can work with IFC in Africa. As IFC and Japan improve digitalization across the continent, the potential impacts are clear: a 10-percent increase in mobile broadband penetration increases GDP per capita by as much as 0.7 percent—as people connect to markets and access financing through the Internet.

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Putting Africa on the Internet Map

Expanding access to affordable, high-speed Internet makes it easier to do business across state borders. It’s also critical for the twenty-first century workforce.

“Right now, nearly nine out of 10 young people not using the Internet either live in Africa or Asia and the Pacific. We need to change that to create more opportunities for all,” says Samuel Gikandi, co-founder and chief executive officer of Africa’s Talking, a technology firm that is unlocking the potential of mobile-communication networks across the continent.

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Related Links

 

This story is also available in French

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Published in March 2019
Updated in August 2019